The police are called daily regarding various incidents of public interest. It is our responsibility to provide the public with honest and accurate information whenever possible.
However, being comfortable with the press takes practice. This article will give you some quick tips for handling media encounters without making a fool out of yourself or your precinct.
Why the Police Should Give Interviews
There are many reasons why the police should communicate with the press. One of the main reasons is to prevent the spread of false or biased information being given to the press from unreliable sources.
Another reason is to show transparency and strengthen the relationship between police and the citizens we protect. Informing the public about serious events is simply another one of the many duties a police officer has.
Who Is Responsible for Providing Police Interviews?
In the US, police officers often give interviews in order to provide accurate information to the public. These interviews may be conducted by patrol officers, detectives, or other specialized units within the police department, depending on the nature of the incident and the specific information being provided.
In some cases, police departments have a public affairs unit or a spokesperson who is responsible for coordinating and providing information to the media. This person is responsible for giving interviews and providing information to the media on behalf of the police department.
Ultimately, the decision of who gives interviews will depend on the specific policies and procedures of that department and the availability of personnel.
Basic Principles for Journalists
Much like when you are investigating an incident, journalists always have some very general questions regarding:
- What happened?
- What’s next?
However, the police often need time to figure out what happened, whereas journalists want to publish a story as quickly as possible.
To make the story sell, journalists often need an “angle” to make the story more interesting. DigitalThirdCoast listed the following examples of useful angles for journalists:
Showing relevance of the story to the audience. How does it impact their lives?
Why is the story relevant now? For example, maybe there’s been a lot of crime in a specific area recently and a news outlet wants to emphasize the rising trend.
We are always more interested in events that transpire close to us. The average media consumer is much more interested in a shooting that took place a block away than a mass shooting on the other side of the world.
Did someone do something extraordinarily stupid? Did a rare event occur? Did someone spot a five-legged groundhog? People are interested in these stories and they generate a lot of clicks.
Remember Depp v. Heard? In the infamous trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, it seemed like half the world tuned in. Why? Because conflict engages us on an emotional level. The same goes for local conflict, both political and criminal.
Simply put: is it trendy? Does the story correspond with current topics?
We want to read about other people and how they are affected by certain events.
As the above principles show, the media might want to give a story an entirely different angle than what you intended when a reporter interviewed you. Remember this when you’re asked questions that don’t make sense or seem relevant.
Before the Interview
If you are asked to give an interview, there are some steps you can take to make it less stressful:
- Make sure you are the right person to give a statement. If not, point them in the right direction.
- Be prepared. Don’t just jump into an interview without thinking things through.
- Make sure to emphasize what the police believe is important, even if you’re not asked about it.
- Before the interview starts, ask what the first question will be. This often helps ease tension from the start.
When Getting Interviewed
It is easy to get nervous when giving an interview. You might not have experience talking into a microphone. You suddenly realize that thousands of people will scrutinize every word you say. If this happens, just remember why you are speaking: to provide information about a serious event.
In our experience, practicing giving interviews with other cops can help a lot. We have a list of the most important things to remember when giving a statement to the press.
- Give the most important information first. Don’t start with small details but rather give a broad picture of what the police think happened.
- Use simple language without police-specific terms. Call it a hit-n-run, not a 10-57.
- Don’t lose your cool over critical questions. Stay calm and give unbiased answers.
- Be clear. The media has several sources and will put your statements in a broader context.
- Do not speculate! You shouldn’t guess about the cause or possible consequences for the involved parties, especially in an early phase.
- Do not use sarcasm, irony, or jokes.
- If you believe the journalist has been misinformed, correct them.
- Many journalists will let you answer a question again if you feel you did not communicate as clearly as you wanted. Remember, this does not apply to live interviews.
- There is no “off the record!” Everything you tell a journalist can/will get published.
- If you get your picture taken, make sure your uniform is in order.
- When you are interviewed, you represent the entire police force, not just your department. Most people perceive the police as a single unit and do not care which department or precinct you work in.
- Journalists often ask the same question from several different angles. If you experience this, let them know that you have already answered the question and want the interview to continue.
- Show empathy! Remember that many people may be negatively affected by the incident.
Sometimes the media will demand a statement when you don’t know or can’t disclose all the facts yet. It may be tempting just to answer “ no comment.” Reporters rarely settle for this answer. Here are some examples of better strategies:
- Give them all of the verified information you have so far. You might consider holding some information back if it is essential to ongoing investigations. Otherwise, try to be as thorough as possible.
- Make sure to convey what the police think are the key points.
- Inform when and where the police will provide additional information.
- Explain why you can’t elaborate.
- If the police are not the right department to answer questions, point the journalist in the right direction. Example: “I believe the hospital can provide better information about the injuries sustained by the victims”.
- If you cannot tell the press what’s happening, you can at least tell them what you are doing to resolve the matter.
Giving media interviews is an important part of the job for police officers. It is vital for the public to have accurate and reliable information about incidents involving the police, and the media plays a crucial role in providing this information. By following these tips and principles, you can effectively communicate with the media and ensure that the public has the information they need..